A new ordinance for “extraordinary events” put in place by the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, which is hosting the Democratic National Convention this week, have left attendees as well as protesters uncertain of what seemingly innocent possessions might be considered a cause for arrest.
Handguns and rifles, of course, are perfectly legal to carry openly under state law, although carrying a concealed weapon requires a permit. But people could face arrest for carrying water bottles, hair spray, socks, or magic markers.
The rules explicitly ban “handbags, backpacks, soda cans, drink coolers, scarves, bike helmets, baby strollers, and non-service animals” within the hundred-square-block event zone. But what about a “container or object of sufficient weight to be used as a projectile.” The Associated Press suggests that this could “include almost anything from an apple to an iPhone.”
Two people were arrested during a demonstration on Sunday, but not as a result of the new ordinance. One protester was wearing a mask and was allegedly found to be carrying a knife and one bystander was accused of disorderly conduct.
Charlotte City Attorney Robert Hagemann, who helped draft the ordinance, justifies it on the grounds that “while the vast majority [of protesters] are law-abiding and peaceful, expressing their First Amendment rights, a number of folks use the opportunity of large crowds and a platform to cause harm and violence.”
That does not satisfy observers like Chris Brook of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, who is particularly worried about the ban on bags that are “carried with the intent to conceal weapons or other prohibited items.” That provision seems to allow the police to perform warrantless searches and arrest anyone who refuses.
“I think it could easily lead to situations where there is some profiling going on,” Brook suggested. “For example a person wearing a business suit might be far less likely to be searched than some other individuals.”
Hagemann insists that police offers will rely on their training, experience, and common sense. However, protest leaders have already expressed concern that the more than 5000 officers on the scene will abuse their powers, especially since they have been getting only twenty minutes of training in the new rules.
Relatively few protesters showed up at the Republican convention in Tampa last week. More are expected in Charlotte — from the right as well as the left — but if Sunday’s low turnout is any indication, that may not happen.
“I think this is an attempt to vilify protesters,” Michael Zytkow of Occupy Charlotte told the Associated Press. “I think it’s an attempt to prevent us from coming out and joining and expressing our rights to march on the street and express our grievances.”
Zytkow, who was arrested when he spoke for more than his allotted three minutes at the meeting where the ordinance was adopted, later tried to test the rules by rolling a cooler full of water bottles down the street at the time of a corporate shareholders meeting to which the ordinance applied. Police ignored him.
Photo of Charlotte police on September 1 by Ken Fager via Flickr